Head of Edward Hines Jr VA Hospital stepping down

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The director of Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital will retire at the end of this month, the hospital announced Tuesday.

Joan Ricard is leaving after nearly 40 years of service in the Department of Veterans Affairs, including two years as director of the hospital.

“The 37 years I’ve spent in the VA, and particularly my past two years at Hines VAH, have been incredibly rewarding,” Ricard said in a press release. “I am honored to have worked with so many dedicated staff members, Veteran advocates and community leaders here and all across the country. I will miss the camaraderie dearly; however, I am excited about spending more time with my family and exploring new interests.”

She declined to speak to the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday.

A replacement for Ricard has not yet been named.

During her tenure, Ricard managed one of the largest VA campuses and was responsible for providing quality care to more than 56,000 veterans annually, the hospital noted.

Her resignation comes amid a slew of allegations about poor treatment at veterans’ hospitals across the country — and after the dismissal Monday of four high-ranking VA officials.

At Hines, it is alleged that Hines patients were being kept on secret waiting lists; the publicized waiting lists showed much faster treatment than had actually occurred, allowing hospital executives to collect bonuses linked to meeting standards for speedy treatment — part of an alleged scam that is now believed to be a nationwide problem for Veteran Affairs hospitals.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has repeatedly called for Ricard to step down because he accused her of being part of the problem at Hines, calling her “drunk with power.” On Tuesday, he called her resignation “a welcome return to accountability in the Hines VA.”

In response to earlier allegations, a spokeswoman for Hines has said: “The Director and all employees at Hines VA Hospital remain committed to leading this organization with integrity and providing the best care our Veterans have earned and deserve.”

And on Tuesday, that spokeswoman again denied that Ricard’s stepping down had anything to do with the current events pertaining to the VA, though Kirk said he suspected that was “another lie.”

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs had announced it was firing four senior executives as officials move to crack down on wrongdoing following a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care, and falsified records covering up the delays.

The dismissals were the first since Congress passed a law this summer to make it easier for the agency to fire senior officials suspected of wrongdoing, shortening their appeals process to 28 days.

Among those being fired were a top purchasing official at the Veterans Health Administration, directors of VA hospitals in Pittsburgh and in Dublin, Ga., and a regional hospital director in central Alabama, the VA said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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